The journey of Thomas C. Ridges ’95 from a Bedford-Stuyvesant kid, to the NYPD, to outstanding prosecutor.
By Mary Anderson
Imagine New York City in the late ’80s and early ’90s. There were 2,245 murders in 1990, 2,154 in 1991, and every year after that had at least 1,000 murders up to, and including, 1995. This was the height of the crack epidemic, when fighting over the most lucrative street corners for drug deals produced a steady body count. It was during this era that police officer Thomas C. Ridges, a kid who made it out of the Summer projects of Bedford-Stuyvesant, began his 33-plus year career in law enforcement. Soon, he would be splitting his time between patroling some of the City’s most dangerous streets, and sitting in class at John Jay College. “John Jay was known as the cop school,” says Ridges, now a highly decorated Assistant District Attorney and the Special Counsel to the District Attorney for New York’s Richmond County (Staten Island). Because the professors at John Jay taught the same classes at night as they did during the day, officers like Ridges could keep up with the coursework while navigating their shifts.
Ridges had started out pursuing a Journalism degree at Penn State University until he ran out of tuition money in his second semester, then he cut short studying Communications at St. John’s University in Queens to go into the New York City Police Academy. Still, Ridges was determined tograduate. “My mom had an eleventh-grade education, but she impressed on me the importance of getting a college degree,” says Ridges. His mother would see him receive his B.A. in Criminal Justice from John Jay in 1995, but she passed away before he earned his J.D. from St. John’s University School of Law three years later. “I worked steady evening shifts by then, so I’d finish at 8 a.m., take a shower at work, go to St. Johns out in Jamaica, be there until 2:00 or 3:00 p.m., study a bit, come all the way home to Staten Island, eat something and try to get some sleep before heading back to work. I was getting by on two hours of sleep a night.”
He caught the eye of one of his law professors, the late Charles J. Hynes, a longtime Brooklyn DA who invited Ridges to apply to his office upon graduation. “You understand that you’re going to take a pay cut,” Hynes told Ridges, who by then was assigned to the NYPD’s Emergency Service Unit and had been with the NYPD for 13 years earning a top salary. “I was already helping people, but I wanted to help them in a different way. What better way to help people than to be in the courtroom and be their voice?” says Ridges.
Speaking to Ridges, you can hear that his enthusiasm for the job hasn’t waned. “I ask myself every day on every case, What’s the right thing to do?” Whether that means asking for jail time, or getting a defendant into a drug program, or not seeking bail. As a testament to his skill as an arbiter in those gray areas, he has received numerous honors, most recently the Thomas E. Dewey Medal, which is awarded to one outstanding prosecutor for each of New York City’s five boroughs. These days, Ridges still doesn’t get much rest. “As part of my job, this phone is on 24/7.” He is the Executive that oversees the Narcotics-Investigation Bureau for Staten Island in a time when the opioid crisis is a national emergency, “but the fact that overdose deaths are going down on Staten Island gives me hope,” he says. “If you can reach one person who’s addicted, it can have a ripple effect. We’re saving lives.”